Slice of Life: Of Notebooks, Red Penquins and Reading Goals

At the end of some days, I look back and think. What just happened? Yesterday, I entered the classroom with a plan. Somehow I ended up in an unexpected place.

Unexpected can be good. Responsive teaching should go that way.

But, the unexpected can push everything askew. It can dismantle and disrupt and throw you off balance.

Today’s unexpected started with a debate over the best tool for studying vocabulary: notebooks or index cards. One classroom chose one tool. The other was a house divided. One group strongly favored index cards the other were passionate about spiral notebooks.

There were claims and counter claims.

Notebooks are better because there is more room. An index card is too small.

Index cards are better because you can alphabetize them. And you can use them to study.

You can put tabs in the notebook. That will let you put them in order.

But you can’t study a notebook as well as cards.

After a secret ballot, the notebook contingent won by two votes.

In the past, this simple tool was never discussed. I just told and instructed. But this year, because I’m consciously honoring their learning from last year, it’s surfaced. A very strong part of me wants to say, I know best. But do I? How can I really.

Meanwhile, writers live between books and units of study. In their notebooks, at their tables, on their blogs. Writer’s notebooks are clandestinely shared during reader’s workshop.

A’s spotted yellow egg story was read and responded to.

“The ending was so sad,” said E,

“No worries,” said A. “I’m working on the next story. It’s about a red penguin. You want to know how I made this character?”

He continued, “I asked my brother what’s your favorite animal. He said a penguin. Then I asked what’s your favorite color.  He said red! So that’s how I  made my character.”

On the other side of the room, readers quietly and not so quietly, pass books on to the next name on the waiting list.

Students jockey for the best reading position.

Finally, quiet happens, and I start a conference.

After about two minutes, M interrupts with, “Can I please give a speech on Junebug?”

I give him the can’t-you-see-I’m-conferring look, and tell to him save it for Friday.

Disappointed, he holds the book tightly.  “Please.”

I look at him.

“Fine. I’ll wait.” He’s not pleased with me.

At the end of workshop, R approaches with her reading file. “Mrs. Harmatz, I think I have met this goal. I need to set a new one.”  With that the bell rings.

Valuing student voice can be problematic.  It’s not convenient or predictable. It may not be what you expect. It may take some thinking through, but if I am to believe in students, I’d better take the time to listen and negotiate the results.

As for the notebook/index card debate, each student will choose the tool they feel most comfortable with.

I’ll follow their lead.

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays and all you do to inspire our writing and teaching lives. Read more slices here.

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